It’s not often that something in a shop window stops me in my tracks – unless the retailer has a nice cat that’s taken a comfortable seat with a view of the pavement; I’ll almost always stop for a cat. There’s no feline at Assembly, the concept store on Ludlow Street on New York’s Lower East Side, but I did stop this summer in front of a pair of sneakers that practically made me purr.
The sneakers were by THEY, a brand that launched in New York last year, with a predominantly monochrome range of minimalist, unisex low-rise styles (from $259) that will appeal to anyone enamoured of the low-key but sophisticated aesthetic of the likes of Common Projects. I've been a Common Projects man for years, partly because I don’t like fuss – or colour – on my sneakers, and the graphics on these new shoes are clean and simple.
There are essentially three designs – in a palette of black, white, beige, grey and blush – across the men’s, women’s and unisex styles, with geometric shapes embedded in the canvas surface and bi-coloured soles. The Two-Tone shoe has a heel panel that is the inverse of the front colour; the Triangle features a contrasting coloured triangle on the visible sides of the shoe, and – my favourite – the Circle, incorporates a perfectly simple semicircle.
And I can’t help but be attracted to the brand’s backstory. The designers – three friends from Manhattan with family traditions of working in Japanese footwear – take inspiration from their favourite modern architecture, particularly the origins of the Bauhaus movement and contemporary Japanese design. From where I’m standing, there’s certainly a sharpness and balance to the lines of these sneakers that has the precision of Walter Gropius or even Tadao Ando.
A pop-up shop in SoHo over the summer carried the full range of sneakers, and I bought a pair of the black-on-white Circle design, which look like an abstracted, blown-up polka dot – very Comme des Garçons. But what persuaded me to buy them, as much as anything, was the obvious beauty of the craftsmanship; the quality of the leather and stitching. The construction of these Italian shoes is impressive, and the interiors are elaborately cushioned for comfort – which also means I went for a size larger than I would normally take.
I’m finding that they work just as well with casual tailoring as they do with a pair of jeans, and I imagine it won’t be long before I go back for more – whether to Assembly, or THEY’s online store, which ships all over the world.